India’s Social Chainsby Rit Nosotro
Change Over Time essay
Describe the caste system in India and trace its effects from origin to Nov. 3, 2001.
From the beginning India’s “caste system” (called the Varnas and Jats in the Indian culture) was a curse on its society. How did India hurt its people? One way is that the Varnas and Jats crushed individual gifts and talents, which should have been encouraged as gifts of God. The people were born into Jats, which are specific communities within the Varnas, destined with certian expectations and limitations. Expectations applied more to the higher Varnas and limitations applied more so to the lower Varnas. Some examples are: specific and strict diets, who they can marry, what jobs they can hold, what community they can live in, who they can eat with, and many other regulations. Which meant that a person born into a lower Varnas or Jat could never excel, and could never follow their dreams.
Before the caste system, India had four groups or divisions already established, the Negrito, Mongoloid, Austroloid and Dravidian. The largest of the four was the Dravidian. India’s caste system of Varnas and Jats started around 1500 BC when the Aryans came to India. The Aryans came from south Europe and Asia, and were light skinned compared to the darker natives. Upon arriving in India the Aryans had little respect for the cultures and religions of the natives, but instead set out to conquer everything in their path. In order to keep their power over the natives, the Aryans set up the caste system. The first class consisted of warriors called the “Kshatria”. The second group was the “Brahmans” or priests who led the people. The last group was the farmers and craftsmen, known as “Vaisia”. Over time, more classes were added. For example, the "Sudra" were the dark skinned natives and the children of the Aryans who married natives. Many people fell outside these “worthy” classes, and were simply labeled “The un-touchables”. The un-touchables were considered dirty, un-teachable, and deserved only the lowest jobs (such as maintenance and cleaning toilets).
As time went on, the caste system (“caste” came from the British who came to India) became more and more strict and suffocating for the Indians. Men and Women were only allowed to marry within their Jat. Although it did not always work out for them to stick to that rule since polygamy occurred in the higher classes they could sometimes be short on women to marry. If that was the case, a man could be permitted to marry a woman of a lower class, but never the other way around. Under normal circumstances, the people respected this, but occasionally a couple would break the rules of class marriage and then would become outcasts. Other rules that came into play were the strict diets. Brahmans and the Vaisias ate fruits, milk, honey, roots and vegetables, which were considered foods that contained wisdom, intelligence, honesty, goodness and other positive qualities. While the Sudras ate meat, which was thought to contain dullness, stupidity, lack of creativity and other negative qualities. There were a few people and Jats that went against these rules though, supposedly attempting to higher their status (or sometimes just to rebel).
As time went on, the lower classes were treated more poorly, even to the point that only the select upper classes (7% of the population) had clean water to drink. The upper classes refused to eat with lower classes, even at restaurants. The lower classes, such as the Dalits, were denied education, freedom of expression, and many other rights the higher classes had.
Mahatma Gandhi was a upper class Hindu who stooped to clean toilets and other tasks beneath his birthright. He successfully rallied Indians in a program of passive resistance to finally gain independence from the British in 1948. Due to his example and international pressure, a congress was established that allowed for representation from the untouchable Dalit caste. When a Dalit congressman converted to Buddhism in 1956, this led the way for a mass exodus among the lower castes from Hinduism into Buddhism.
Nearly 50 years later, another event gave rise to a mass of conversions by the un-touchables. A man from their “class” became educated, and then dared to try and watch a festival that the upper class men took part in. The un-touchable was soon discovered called a “dirty un-touchable” and then killed. When the dead man’s family tried to report the murder to the police, the police turned them away because they were un-touchables. Eventually the police gave in and investigated the murder, later convicting a young man, but that did not satisfy the people. They were tired of being treated so poorly, and soon decided to abandon the Hindu religion and choose a new one.
On November 4th, 2001 the un-touchables held a rally for the purpose of choosing a new religion. They planned on having all 180-million of the people in their class come to the rally, but the government and the police blocked buses and even the area itself to keep people from coming to the rally. Because of the police efforts, only about 100,000 un-touchables were able to attend. The two main religions that were presented were Christianity and Buddhism. Even though Christianity was presented in a loving way, Buddhism won over most of the un-touchables. Still, throughout rural India, there are millions who keep the centuries old tradition of caste in order to please the hundreds of gods within the Hindu system.
Although the caste system has been outlawed, the government made up a different name for a “caste system”, “positive discrimination”. The “positive” discrimination is in reality just another caste system, separating the higher class from the lower class. Even though the positive discrimination is considerably less severe than the original caste system, it still limits a person’s true potential. The sad story of Indian’s continual caste systems just goes to show what happens when the true God is left out of a culture. The preacher Martin Luther King Jr. understood this and gave his life to remind America that "all men are created equal" by God. Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela in South Africa, also followed the example of resisting inequitable systems. The chains of social injustice fell away when founded in Christian principles. The chains of India's self imposed oppression of caste will remain as long as Hinduism remains.
Daniel, Aharon. "The Castes of India." World History. 18 October 2003 . http://members.tripod.com/adaniel/castes.htm
Johnson, David and Molly. "Special Edition - Part 3 on the Dalits", Rally Reports. World History. October 18, 2003. http://www.davidmolly.net/update/Dalits-Report.html
Lakshmi, Rama. "Loosening
The Grip of India's Caste System" World History. October 18, 2003. http://www.sikhspectrum.com/112002/rama.htm
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